If you’ve watched any of Channel 4’s stable of channels recently, chances are you may have come across a trailer announcing digital channel E4’s “brand spanking new” sitcom, How I Met Your Mother.
So new, indeed, that it first appeared in the UK on BBC2, erm, three years ago. Still, E4 will be running episodes each weekday at 7.30pm Monday to Friday. Quite why they’ve chosen to start the run on a Friday is something that Angela Jain, E4’s controller, will understand more than I do. But the daily stripping should mean that we fair race through episodes of the comedy that is already on to a fifth season in the US.
One quibble I have, though, is the trailer itself (which, as far as I can tell, doesn’t exist in any online form I can link to). In essence, it draws comparisons between each of the five characters of HIMYM and five of the six regulars in that other classic New York-based twentysomething sitcom, Friends — and concludes that the channel’s latest acquisition is just “New episodes of Friends without boring bloody Ross”.
Which, of course, presumes that (a) Ross is boring, and (b) the two sitcoms are in any way alike. Well, they’re both set in Manhattan, both feature attractive twentysomethings, but really, that’s about it. While Friends is very much a conventional sitcom with an unusually high hit rate of jokes per minute (even in its leaner “oh-my-god-isn’t-Matthew-Perry-thin” period), How I Met Your Mother is often much smarter than that.
Most episodes consist of a future version of the main character, Ted, trying to tell his children how he met their mother (hence the show title). However, it’s clear from the outset that not only is future Ted an unreliable narrator, but the show itself is quite happy playing with time and memory in ways that convential sitcoms don’t. Indeed, back when the first season was showing on BBC2 in 2006, I compared it do a very different, UK-originated, sitcom:
Famously, of course, Coupling itself tried and failed to make the transition Stateside — another inevitable failure, as Stephen Moffat’s intelligent scripts that often play with the conventions of television fell flat at the hands of a miscast troupe and audience expectations that this series would be “the next Friends”.
And yet, a couple of years on, America has shown that it can do a Coupling-style show, and sell it back to the UK. How I Met Your Mother is currently showing on Sunday evenings on BBC2, with BBC Three a week ahead on Monday evenings. Once you get past the show’s contrived situation (a father in the year 2030 telling his children how he met, er, their mother), you end up with a fun comedy that is a cut above most in the genre. Like Stephen Moffat’s masterpiece, HIMYM is also showing that it’s not afraid to deviate from conventional sitcom structure. For example, Sunday’s episode, The Pineapple Incident, sees lead character Ted wake up after an alcohol-fuelled night that he has no memory of. Over the course of the episode, as his friends take turns in filling him in on what he get up to, we see differing reconstructions of the night in flashback. The gradual build-up of alternative stories doesn’t quite match some of Moffatt’s genius plotting for Coupling, but it’s pleasant enough for a Sunday evening show.
And now, of course, pleasant enough for weekday evenings.
There’s one upside to Channel 4’s insistence that How I Met Your Mother is the new Friends, of course — the chance that we’ll see episodes crop up every other hour at all times of the day or night. And that can only be a good thing.